The word Antichrist has become inextricably linked with the excesses of cranks and extremists. One thinks of Aleister Crowley, the self-styled Beast 666, or Ian Paisley waving his cardboard ‘Antichrist’ banner under the Pope’s nose. Historians, too, have tended to equate the Antichrist with the lunatic fringe, implying that his influence was confined to a few radical sects.
Christopher Hill feels that such an attitude is misguided. Belief in the Antichrist was once much more widespread than most historians have allowed. Thomas Beard, Cromwell’s schoolmaster, wrote that, ‘Next unto our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, there is nothing so necessary as the true and solid knowledge of Antichrist’,